Change Magazine September 2017 Issue - Page 36

Grassroots Voices CAMEROON SHAPING GRITTIER GIRLS INSIDE AND OUT A process of institutionalizing sustained aspiration, passion and perseverance Carole Nyemeck Fatima is an eight-year old girl who lives in Briqueterie, a neighbourhood in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The neighbourhood is constituted in a predominantly muslim area. She is the youngest of a family of six and does majority of the work in the household. Her two elder sisters who are barely out of adolescence, are already married to polygamous husbands to whom they have begun bearing children. Her elder brother was sent to the family’s village farm in the Northern region. Fatima’s parents have not gone to school and earn a living through selling grilled meats commonly called soyas that come from the village’s farm. At ten, Fatima will be married to a man 30 years older than her and who already has four wives. He has paid a huge dowry to her parents. Thanks to their future son-in-law, Fatima’s parents have been able to expand their village’s farm and their soyas business. This gives them no chance to look back. As a result, Fatima can no longer focus on her studies. She has barely two years left to get ready to be a good wife and mother. At the public school that Fatima attends in Briqueterie, all her female comrades share the same fate. School cannot be a priority for them. Besides being forced into marriage, they have the daily difficulties of getting up early to go and fetch water many kilometers away from home, washing dishes and clothes, cooking, and helping their parents sell. In that environment, Fatima, who wanted a different life, dreamt of finishing elementary school, getting her high school diploma, and eventually going to a pilot school. Every night, she prayed that Allah hears her and helps her realize her dreams. At school, she uses her breaks to study her lessons. Her friends laugh at her “foolish dreams.” Fortunately for Fatima, a Cameroonian NGO had just set headquarters in Briqueterie, with the intent of empowering disadvantaged girls and women. During the International Day of the Girl, the NGO, which receives funds from UN entities and other global stakeholders visited Fatima’s school. Fatima soon gained the attention of the NGO, when during the Q & A session, she told the whole class that she dreams of becoming a pilot. The NGO began to get in touch with Fatima and her family, and explained to them the benefits for a girl getting a quality education. They succeeded in convincing her parents that if they let her finish elementary school, they will give her a scholarship to study at their boarding school. They also helped them earn a loan to pay back the dowry of the man who was to marry her. Seven years later, Fatima earned her high school diploma in Mathematics and Physics, with honours. She had no problem finding a full scholarship to enter a prestigious pilot school. Fatima finally became a remarkable pilot, Change Magazine September 2017 33